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Friday, May 26, 2006

Paul Krugman: A Test of Our Character

Paul Krugman wonders if we are ready for politicians who tell the truth about difficult issues:

A Test of Our Character, by Paul Krugman, Gore's Movie Commentary, NY Times: In his new movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore suggests that there are three reasons it's hard to get action on global warming. The first is boiled-frog syndrome: because the effects of greenhouse gases build up gradually, at any given moment it's easier to do nothing. The second is the perception, nurtured by a careful disinformation campaign, that there's still a lot of uncertainty about whether man-made global warming is a serious problem. The third is the belief, again fostered by disinformation, that trying to curb global warming would have devastating economic effects.

I'd add a fourth reason... But first, ... Mr. Gore couldn't have asked for a better illustration of disinformation campaigns than the reaction of energy-industry lobbyists and right-wing media organizations to his film. ...

As evidence that global warming isn't really happening, [the National Review] offers the fact that some Antarctic ice sheets are getting thicker ... Curt Davis, ... whose work is cited ... has already protested. ... He points out that an initial increase in the thickness of Antarctica's interior ice sheets is a predicted consequence of a warming planet, so that his results actually support global warming...

[T]hey [also] issue hysterical warnings about the economic consequences of environmentalism. "Al Gore's global warming movie: could it destroy the economy?" Fox News asked. Well, no, it couldn't. There's ... broad consensus that even a very strong program to reduce emissions would have only modest effects on economic growth. At worst, G.D.P. growth might be, say, one-tenth or two-tenths of a percentage point lower over the next 20 years. ....

But "An Inconvenient Truth" isn't just about global warming... It's also ..., implicitly, a cautionary tale about what's been wrong with our politics.

Why, after all, was Mr. Gore's popular-vote margin in the 2000 election narrow enough that he could be denied the White House? Any account that neglects the determination of some journalists to make him a figure of ridicule misses a key part of the story. Why were those journalists so determined to jeer Mr. Gore? Because of the very qualities that allowed him to realize the importance of global warming, many years before any other major political figure: his earnestness, and his genuine interest in facts, numbers and serious analysis.

And so the 2000 campaign ended up being about the candidates' clothing, their mannerisms, anything but the issues, on which Mr. Gore had a clear advantage...

I won't join the sudden surge of speculation about whether "An Inconvenient Truth" will make Mr. Gore a presidential contender. But the film does make a powerful case that Mr. Gore is the sort of person who ought to be running the country.

Since 2000, we've seen what happens when people who aren't interested in the facts, who believe what they want to believe, sit in the White House. Osama bin Laden is still at large, Iraq is a mess, New Orleans is a wreck. And, of course, we've done nothing about global warming.

But can the sort of person who would act on global warming get elected? Are we — by which I mean both the public and the press — ready for political leaders who don't pander, who are willing to talk about complicated issues and call for responsible policies? That's a test of national character. I wonder whether we'll pass.

Previous (5/22) column: Paul Krugman: Talk-Show Joe
Next (5/29) column: Paul Krugman: Swift Boating the Planet

    Posted by on Friday, May 26, 2006 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Environment, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (26)


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